Today we’d like to talk to you legal eagles about backlinks. A backlink is simply a link back to your website—the digital front door of your business. Backlinks are a good thing to have for several reasons:

Links (technically “hyperlinks”) are the very backbone of the World Wide Web as originally envisioned by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, which is a massive influence in how Google judges the quality of a web page.

A good backlink is a vote of confidence from other websites, a kind of peer-approval process. Before you ask, yes, there is such a thing as a bad backlink and we’ll deal with that further down. Good backlinks build your page authority and help your website rank higher in searches. Later on, I’ll share several ideas on how to build the high-quality backlinks your law firm needs.

As for anchor text, what we mean by that is the visible text you click/tap to visit a blue hyperlink. Those words matter just a bit because what text other web pages use to link to your page helps Google assess what about your page is valuable to users.

 

The Medieval Mechanics of Backlinks

Let’s say your site is www.theholygrail.com, and King Arthur and the cast of Monty Python and the Holy Grail are searching for it.

It’s not enough to have an index.html page on your Holy Grail site. Google doesn’t know yet whether you’re the real Holy Grail that King Arthur is searching for. However, if ten other nobles link to your Holy Grail site, that’s ten signposts to Google telling it that there’s something important at your site, but it still doesn’t know what is important.

So, it helps that those ten noble websites link to your site with the exact text “Holy Grail” — allowing for variations, e.g., “the Holy Grail over here,” or “this is the way to the Holy Grail.” Now, Google has backlinks to follow and also an indicator of what it should look for when it gets to you. Subsequently, when King Arthur asks for directions to the Holy Grail, he gets pointed to you.

But we specified “noble” sites. What about some random peasant? Peasants can point to your site too, but King Arthur is likely to value their word less, as compared to the word of a squire or duke. A peasant has less “domain authority.” Google takes into account the authority ranking of a site linking to you. The more authoritative the site, the more weight its recommendation carries.

A whole mob of peasants can point out the Holy Grail, but King Arthur is a busy king who would like to speak directly to the closest peer. Otherwise, he wastes all day squabbling with muddy inhabitants of the communes.

There is one more thing affecting link authority that relates to legal firms. Law firms want local traffic, at least as far as potential clients go. So, let’s imagine Castle Anthrax with the Holy Grail visible on top. Well, obviously that’s an easy tell. If the peasants live close to Castle Anthrax, it’s not so much trouble to listen to them. It’s right there! You don’t need to be a duke to see it. So when it comes to local referrals, authority doesn’t count as much as proximity. Even a serf within boundaries of Anthrax township should know what’s going on at Castle Anthrax.

That being said, we still like the highest authority possible even at the locals’ level. The word of a servant who works at the castle, or the town crier or publisher of the local gazette, still carries the best weight. We want to avoid “fake news” from the roustabouts at the tavern.

Backlink Philosophy in a Nutshell

Here’s where we are so far:

  • You want backlinks
  • You want high quality, authoritative backlinks
  • You want specific backlinks that indicate what at your site is worthy of attention
  • You also want localized backlinks (still from trustworthy sources though)

A few examples of websites with better domain authority might include:

  • Government and university domains that end in “.gov” or “.edu”
  • Wikipedia or other encyclopedic sources
  • Trusted news sources like CNN, WSJ
  • Well-established commercial organizations like Google, Yahoo, or Forbes
  • Older domains that have been around forever, like IBM.com (founded 1986)

We say “might” because over time, webmasters heard that a link from a high authority website is solid gold, so high-authority sites get link-spammed all the time. Ask any webmaster with a high-ranking site that regularly gets prime snippet position; your inbox will be crammed with people begging for links every day!

As Google engineer John Mueller is quoted in this SEJ article, .edu and .gov domains don’t automatically carry high rank, only the quality ones do. Any site may loosen its standards over time, and as a result, their authority diminishes.

Yes, there are toxic backlinks too. These are spam and scam websites that link to any random site for whatever reason. Toxic sites linking to you are believed to be a source of negative page rank, enough that Google offers a disavow tool where you tell it “don’t associate me with those bad sites!” However, Google engineers assure us that this isn’t a huge issue unless you initiated the toxic activity yourself, e.g., via a shady link-trading scheme.

At the end of the day, the canonical sites with higher authority still rank higher than, say, your aunt’s Facebook page. It’s just that Google is careful not to consider link juice as potent as it once did. Other ranking factors come into play more now, such as how carefully a website follows Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. Another factor is how many other websites link to the site in question. Just by coincidence, websites like the ones we listed just happen to exhibit these two factors anyway.

Did We Get to the Holy Grail Yet?

But wait up here: what if Castle Anthrax has a fake Holy Grail? We haven’t considered that possibility yet.

There are all kinds of frauds out there on the web, after all. They might even have fooled the locals a time or two. What we want then is not just directions to the nearest Holy Grail, but an authority on the subject of legendary artifacts, who knows to point us to the one, true Holy Grail.

Wait, he wasn’t in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Oh well, enough with the movie metaphors, let’s get to the specifics.

 

Citations Matter

The modern web, being the egalitarian platform that it is, is rife with deception. Spammers, scammers, and flim-flam artists can put up any webpage claiming all kinds of outrageous things, which is why Google works so hard at being suspicious and skeptical. When it comes to a professional service like the legal field, Google is even more careful to verify a business’s credibility.

Since a legal firm has to have an address, one of the ways that Google verifies businesses is with a Google My Business (GMB) listing. It is one form of nailing down a NAP citation.

A NAP is a listing of a business’s “name, address, and phone number.” Along with Google’s efforts with its My Business feature, which is connected to Google Maps listings, it also considers NAP citations from Bing Maps (Microsoft’s version), Facebook or LinkedIn profiles, Yelp, and other directory services.

Within the legal industry, you want to get your NAP citation listed with legal directory services as well. At the minimum, there are the essential legal service directories:

Together with a listing in Google My Business, listing with these three directories is a step towards a solid citation portfolio. If you don’t have a Google My Business profile set up yet, we urge you to do that first, because it’s a whole free mini-website hosted by Google itself and it’s the most rockin’ thing since ice cream.

Read our article “How to Optimize Your Google My Business Listing in 2020” to learn how to create a GMB listing that boosts your local rankings and attracts legal clients.

 

How To Get Those Backlinks?

Getting back to the practical nut of the matter, these are some of the tried and true backlink methods open to lawyers and law firms:

Alumni Associations

If you’re a lawyer, you have access to your alma mater’s alumni association. Higher education loves to link to your business just as much as you like being linked from a .edu domain, because they get to brag about their student’s success, so don’t be shy about reaching out to them. If the university has a blog where you may contribute articles, this is one case where guest posting still works.

Professional Organizations

Don’t be a loner! Hang out with your peers and stay active in associations related to the legal field. There’s a lot of them, including some specialized interests sure to fit your practice area. There’s also a sub-category of bar associations for minority groups. Presenting at conferences, participating in committees, and submitting articles to their publications are all ways to keep your firm’s name on the top charts. Not only is it good for backlink opportunities, but it’s a boost to your reputation in general.

Non-profits and Charities

Tossing a little pro bono work to a good cause, or even a vouch of support from your site, is a great way to pick up some exposure from another source with decent site authority. Perhaps you can sponsor a scholarship for locals in your area. Donate to activist projects that align with your firm’s areas of specialty or mission or ally with them in partnership for local initiatives. This is great PR for you, a possible tax write-off, and a source of backlinks all in one.

Local Events

This is the wild card slot that can take the form of anything from setting up a vendor booth at a convention to giving a speech at your rotary club. Keep an eye on your local paper and be an enthusiastic community member, and you’re bound to at least have some fame in your town. Be extra, extra nice to any journalist offering to do a feature on your firm. Keep an eye for when your neighborhood association might be handing out “best in town awards” that you can apply for. These awards are frequently published by local papers and magazines, who also publish a digital article that contains a link.

 

Better Backlinks Through Print Media

Linked in with the network of alumni organizations and bar associations is the print media sphere, completing the trifecta of legal professional culture. Any periodical that you read professionally or even for pleasure is a publishing opportunity, which can build your authority and exposure. Print media does help backlinks as well, because most publishers have an electronic presence, and because exposure in a magazine attracts its own links from readers’ websites.

HARO is one way to easily find your way into print. The acronym stands for “help a reporter out,” with a service connecting reporters to expert sources. The free version lets you sign up as a source, and receive a daily list of queries from reporters researching specific questions for stories they’re composing. If you have the right answer for the journalist writing a story in your field, you can answer them, and get cited as an expert interviewee in print.

Another kind of print promotion is press releases. You submit a press release telling news of your firm, such as winning an award, partnering with an organization for a new initiative, or opening a new location. Reporters sometimes pick these up as filler material or for use in a local news spot. Take press releases with a grain of salt, however, because they’re just not the magic Google juice they used to be.

Let’s not forget the content on your own website! Of course, you have WordPress installed on your site, so you can publish your own nifty content ideas there to attract backlinks. We have a whole list of ideas for that strategy right here.

“Hey, I’m A Lawyer, Not An Author!”

Don’t your fingers just get sore thinking about it? We digital marketing media people toss around this writing thing like it’s something everybody does. But your law firm may not have a talented Isaac Asimov sitting around waiting for something to write. You may not have the time and resources to compose all this content to boost your SEO.

You can easily leap this hurdle by hiring a freelancer. Remember that in a specialized field like the legal industry, you want to provide the outline for the material and then let the freelance writer/editor polish it into a full-fledged article. There are also writers who specialize in the legal niche.

Your best bet for finding a competent freelancer, by every poll we can find, is UpWork. We asked, “Are you sure there isn’t any other site?” We got back “forget it!” The nature of the gig economy just naturally drives everyone towards one well-moderated online marketplace. For the sake of fairness, here are some second-place alternatives:

  • Craigslist: You might get cosmically lucky
  • LinkedIn: More geared towards permanent positions, but it’s becoming a good general-purpose staffing network
  • ProBlogger job boards: Desperate freelancers check this maybe once a month
  • Fiverr: You just may find that third-world hack who is miraculously good at English
  • Guru: Actually a well-established freelance marketplace older than UpWork, but tough to find any talent on there because they all gravitated to – wait for it – UpWork
  • PeoplePerHour: Another perfectly viable competitor, also drained of talent by Guess Who?

The gig economy is just like this. A freelance marketplace tends to be a utility that everyone only wants one of, with the competitors staffed by the dregs who got kicked off the top platform. If you are looking for writing talent and don’t want to outsource through any third party, start a page for hiring on your own website. Title it “write for us.” Offer compensation. Make it like a help-wanted ad. Put in some editorial guidelines. This will magically attract freelancers through drive-by Googling.

 

Why Is Getting Backlinks So Hard?

It’s hard because bad people broke the old backlinks system, so now we can’t have nice things. Times were when you could just offer to exchange links with a colleague, submit a guest post to a blog, leave a comment on a bulletin board with a link, or even edit a Wikipedia article. All those avenues have closed shut, and the ones still open are rigorously discarded and frowned upon by Google.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t attract users anyway. If you run across a question where you can provide a helpful answer, like on Quora or Reddit, go ahead and post a few paragraphs worth of advice, then close with a link. It isn’t worth much as far as Google page ranking goes, but if the present audience loves you and awards you points, it will still get enough exposure so that another user may come along and deem your site worthy of linking.

It would be a better world if we could all trust each other. On the other hand, there would also be less work for lawyers.

If you’re trying to build better backlinks, but can’t find the time to get started, Cardinal Digital Marketing can help. We are a team of SEO and PPC marketing experts dedicated to helping law firms thrive through integrated digital marketing strategies. Put your SEO strategy in our hands, and we’ll develop an effective link building campaign that gets your law firm’s website ranking at the top of Google in no time!

 

Alex Membrillo Cardinal CEO

Alex Membrillo

Founder and CEO

Alex Membrillo is the CEO of Cardinal, a digital marketing agency focused on growing multi location companies. His work as CEO of Cardinal has recently earned him the honor of being selected as a member of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 list by Georgia State University as well as 2015 and 2016 Top 20 Entrepreneur of metro Atlanta by TiE Atlanta, Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2016 Small Business Person of the Year,and the Digital Marketer of the Year by Technology Association of Georgia (TAG).